- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

Afghanistan needs a satellite TV network. The sooner the better. This is a simple concept that could make all the

difference. Afghanistan is probably awash in satellite TV dishes anyway, although the majority of these are no doubt scanning the sky for the latest episode of "Baywatch."

What is proposed here is not another entertainment outlet. Far from it. Such a network using off-the-shelf hardware and existing satellite capacity in the region could, in the short term, help heal and repair what is today a badly bruised sense of national identity. Instilling civility and encouraging dialogue in a broadly dispersed and segmented political forum will not be easy. Satellite TV could help open the process by putting the players, and the agenda on the TV screen in cities and village all across the country.

You could call it Kabul's version of C-SPAN.

However, the purpose here is not just to contribute to the establishment of a viable political entity. This satellite TV network could be transformed over time into a progressive platform for a variety of applications and purposes including distance education, telemedicine and a long list of other options. Internet services with links to various aid organizations could be an integral part of this implementation.

Afghanistan is detecting a strong signal, and there is little doubt that the international community is going to stick to its commitment when it comes to helping this damaged nation get back on its feet. What needs to be emphasized is that Afghanistan is now eagerly relaunching TV services that have been shut down for years, and the technical talent necessary to deploy a satellite TV network is already available and widely dispersed.

Rolling out satellite technology is one just small step in what will be a very long process. Innovative approaches need to explored. What is the best way to coordinate all parties concerned so they can overcome the enormous hurdles that lie ahead as they go about rebuilding a shattered infrastructure? Few things are easier and quicker to deploy than a satellite TV network.

Nothing like this has ever been attempted, and there is no guarantee of success. And yet, this is exactly what makes this project such an exciting and important undertaking. Best of all, at a time when millions of dollars for relief and reconstruction are on the table, it would be relatively inexpensive to implement a national satellite TV network involving a single or perhaps a handful of transmission sites linked to dozens if not hundreds of receive sites. A portable or mobile transmission capability should be part of the mix as well, along with the requisite power supplies.

One of the recent highlights of the urgent effort under way in Bonn to forge a vehicle for national unity in Afghanistan after years and years of civil war and Russian occupation was a satellite phone call from a prominent Afghan leader who could not attend this session. This event further underscores how the Afghan people have already embraced satellite technology, and it is a strong indicator of how receptive the population might be to this proposal.

The satellite TV dish is no stranger to this corner of the world, and the impact of satellite TV in general on the Islamic world is a peculiar phenomenon that cannot be quickly dismissed. Satellite TV could be tapped in this instance in a unique way, and the U.S. should recognize the true nature of this opportunity. Moving quickly to make this a reality is essential.

Peter J. Brown of Mount Desert, Maine, is an internationally recognized satellite industry journalist.

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